There a number of simple techniques that can help you get better, more accurate search results when using Google. Most of the time we just type in the search phrase we think most accurately represents what we are looking for and the results are pretty good. But sometimes we don’t quite get to what we are looking for or need to narrow down the search results to more easily find what we want. The following list is 6 common and easy to remember search techniques to help you get better search results. This list is by no means comprehensive but will definitely make you searches easier.
Note: All searches are displayed inside of brackets but aren’t meant to be included in your searches.
- Exact Phrase Search: This is probably the most commonly useful tool and if you haven’t been using it, you’re going to find it saves you a ton of time when searching. Simply put your search phrase inside of double quotes and Google will return results with that exact phrase. Example: Searching for [Scott Ellis] will yield slightly different results than searching for ["Scott Ellis"] (which brings up my main business site BlackBox Technologies as well.) The exact phrase search is particularly useful for proper names and longer phrases where you are looking for something really specific. You can also use this in slightly more complex searches by putting quotes around only a part of the search phrase. For example if you wanted to find out about [Philanthropy Groups Dallas] search: ["Philanthropy Groups" Dallas] to yield better results than without the quotes.
- Search Within A Specific Site: Sometimes the search within a site just stinks. Google search will allow you to search within a specific site by simply using site:domain.com followed by your search phrase. For example: if you want to search for my posts about Flickr but can’t easily find them (I hope that isn’t the case but…) you can do a google search for [site:vsellis.com flickr] . I find this tip particularly helpful when looking for information in forum. In my experience most forums have horrible search. Combining this with putting your search phrase in quotes will usually get you to what you want much faster than reading a ton of thread titles, especially considering that people don’t frequently write meaningful titles for their forum threads.
- Search Within A Specific Type of Site: Ever tried to find something on a government site only to find yourself thinking “no wonder everything the government does seems so inefficient?” Well, let Google take some of the frustration out by searching within a top level domain. Like the tip above search for [site:gov] (or org, or whatever) followed by your search phrase. So if you only want to know what the government has to say about paying late taxes search for [site:gov "paying late taxes"] and you’ll restrict search results to .gov (official) websites.
- Search for A Specific File Type: Need to find an Excel template or some other specific file type? Just search for [filetype:xls] (or pdf, mp3, …) Try searching for [filetype:xlsx "invoice template"].
- Exclude Terms: Perhaps one of the more useful techniques is to make sure certain things don’t show up in your search results. Simply put a – (minus sign) in front of the word you don’t want to include in your search. For example, if you wanted to search for information on [colts] but weren’t looking for the football team you could try search: [colts -football]. Note: if you use the hyphen as a dash (e.g. anti-virus) then Google is smart enough to know that you aren’t trying to eliminate “virus” from the search.
- Search Exactly As Is: Sometimes you want a specific word exactly. Google will by default use synonyms which is typically good but doesn’t always give us what we want. So add a + (plus sign) before a particular term to search on that exact word(s). For example: If I search : [overhead view of las vegas pools] I also end up with searches that include “aerial view” which I wasn’t exactly what I wanted so I re-did my search for [+overhead view las vegas pools] and eliminated the synonyms in the search results.
The last tip is to remember that you can use these searches in combination for even more specific search results. So while Google search is generally pretty awesome the quantity of information continues to expand rapidly as do search engine optimization practices, meaning we have to get better about using the search tools available to us to make sure we are finding what we are looking for.
What search techniques do you use to make searching faster or easier?